This sample Katherine Anne Porter Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Although her output was relatively small, Katherine Anne Porter was one of the most recognized and acclaimed American writers of short fiction of the mid-twentieth century. in 1966 she won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (1964), a collection comprising stories mainly written between 1922 and 1940.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Roving Spirit Is Born
Porter was born in Indian Creek, Texas. When she was two years old, her mother died, and the family moved to a farm in Hays County, near Austin, where Porter and her four siblings were reared by their paternal grandmother. This milieu provided the setting and characters for many of Porter’s short stories. For example, Uncle Jimbilly and Nannie—emancipated slaves who appear in several works—are based upon two of the farm’s domestic servants, and Porter’s grandmother, Catherine Anne, often surfaces as the authoritative, strong-willed matriarch. After her grandmother died in 1901, Porter was sent to several convent schools in Texas and Louisiana, until, at the age of sixteen, she ran away to get married. This marriage, her first of four, ended in divorce, and Porter subsequently moved to Chicago, where she worked as a journalist and as a movie extra for Essanay Studios. Porter referred to herself as ”a roving spirit,” and her myriad travel experiences typically yielded the ideas for her stories.
Inspired by Mexico and Europe
In 1918, while employed as the drama critic for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado, Porter fell ill with influenza. The virus was life-threatening and caused her hair to turn white, an ordeal that later formed the basis for Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939). After a brief, unhappy stint as a ghost writer while living in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Porter traveled to Mexico, where she studied art and became involved in the Obregon Revolution of 1920, a movement to overthrow the regime of President Venustiano Carranza, who had failed to move Mexico toward social reform. The revolutionary program of educational, agrarian, and labor reorganization intrigued Porter and influenced the nature of social commentary in her works. Porter’s first published short story, ”Maria Concepcion” (1922), and several other early tales take place in Mexico— the country Porter felt she knew best.
During the 1920s, Porter’s stories appeared in the literary journals Century Magazine, Hound and Horn, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and were later collected in Flowering Judas (1930), her first volume of short fiction. The stories won Porter critical acclaim and a Guggenheim fellowship that allowed her to travel extensively in Europe for many years. A cruise to Germany in 1932, where she met, among others, Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, inspired her only novel, Ship of Fools (1962). Although she generally disliked Germany, Porter stayed there for a year following her cruise, and her experiences later rendered material for ”The Leaning Tower” (1941), a short story concerning an American expatriate in Nazi Germany.
After leaving Berlin in 1933, Porter lived in Paris, and the four years she spent there greatly influenced her life and career. In Paris, Porter renewed many literary acquaintances and developed several lifelong friendships, most notably with such authors as Glenway Wescott and Ford Madox Ford. Porter also remarried, and her writing flourished. Such nostalgic works as Old Mortality (1937), ”The Witness,” and ”The Grave” were composed or developed in Paris, and the distance and contrast of the city from Porter’s native Texas gave her a fresh perspective on her childhood that allowed her to write of it with genuine warmth. Porter’s perspective on her strict Southern upbringing was so changed that when she returned to the United States in 1936, she visited her family for the first time in eighteen years.
Commercial Success Brings Financial Independence
Porter continued to travel in America, and the books that evolved in Paris, Pale Horse, Pale Rider and The Leaning Tower, and Other Stories (1944), were eventually published. Porter’s critical acclaim brought her employment offers from many universities, and for years she earned income as both a lecturer and a writer-in-residence. With the publication and commercial success of Ship of Fools, Porter became financially independent, drastically reduced her speaking appearances, and moved to College Park, Maryland. Her final work, The Never-Ending Wrong (1977), was published when she was eighty-seven and concerns the
Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial. Written from fifty-year-old notes that detail conversations Porter had with policemen, journalists, and protesters, The Never-Ending Wrong reflects Porter’s concern with what she termed the ”political injustice” involved in the case. Porter’s lifelong pursuit to complete a biography of Cotton Mather remained unrealized when she died after a succession of cerebral hemorrhages in 1980, at the age of ninety.
Works in Literary Context
Porter is widely acknowledged as one of the finest modern authors of short fiction. Writing in an unadorned prose style, Porter endowed her works with vivid, sensitive characterizations and garnered much critical praise for her arresting blend of imagery, detail, and subtle irony. Her stories often revolve around the relationships and emotions of her characters and explore such concerns as the differences between appearance and reality and the consequences of self-deception. Porter’s perceptive psychological studies typically draw from personal experience and depend on moments of illumination to express the essence of an incident. She is perhaps most highly regarded for her lengthier works of short fiction, particularly the novellas Noon Wine (1937) and Pale Horse, Pale Rider, which emphasize personal consequences within a social context.
George Hendrick observed that from the beginning of her career, Porter sought to ”explore the human heart and mind and society itself, without lapsing into popular cliches.” Porter often realized this ideal through treatment of grim, uncomfortable realities. The stories in Flowering Judas, for example, are united by the theme of betrayal. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is composed of three novellas that explore the uneasy correlations between life and death. Old Mortality is an ironic work that probes the authenticity of a family legend from the point of view of Miranda, a young girl commonly acknowledged as Porter’s fictional counterpart. Throughout the story, Miranda becomes increasingly aware of her elders’ misconceptions of the past, and Old Mortality ends as Miranda, determined not to repeat the mistakes of her family, naively makes a vow to live life free of illusion and deception. Porter continued her portrayal of Miranda in Pale Horse, Pale Rider, a treatment of wartime psychology set in Denver during World War I. In Noon Wine, which many contemporary critics consider her most outstanding work, Porter shifts the focus of her central theme of betrayal to a complex, cerebral study of murder. In her final short story collection, The Leaning Tower, Porter contemplates the constant change and growth of human relationships, often using a character’s personal experience to represent the greater failures or triumphs of humanity.
Porter was an important influence on the generation of writers that followed her, including William Humphrey, William Goyen, Tillie Olsen, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty.
Works in Critical Context
During Porter’s lifetime, critical response was skewed by her flamboyant personality and by the distortions in her biographical record. She was seen as an aristocratic daughter of the Old South whose depictions of ”plain” people were excursions into foreign territory. Critics treated her in a manner befitting an exquisite Southern belle, vying in their praises. She was subjected to little rigorous criticism, but her work was the focus of close readings, which led to minor shifts in emphasis in the interpretations of her stories. Although she received pervasive critical acclaim during her career, she never enjoyed wide readership or financial success until she wrote Ship of Fools. Ironically, critics concluded from the novel that Porter’s excellence in short fiction could not be sustained in a longer work.
With the revival of interest in women’s writing in the wake of the feminist movement, much of Porter’s body of work was collected or republished in response to the reconsideration of her work by scholars. Commenting on the reasons for the reexamination of Porter’s work only after a long period of neglect, Reynolds Price has this to say in the New York Times Book Review: ”Porter’s stories take an aim as accurate and deadly as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, and her prose is leaner, for dissecting deeper. The results are dazzling.”
Porter’s reputation rests firmly on the strength of the twenty-seven stories included in her Collected Stories, which are marked by an economy of style and a controlled portrayal of character and emotion. Laurie Johnston notes in the New York Times that Porter’s ”storytelling had a quality of translucence—a smoothly polished, surface objectivity that nevertheless moved the reader to share the underlying turmoil of her characters and their often frightening interrelationships.” Robert Penn Warren in the Washington Post states that Porter was ”certainly unsurpassed in our century or country— perhaps any time or country—as a writer [of] fiction in the short forms of story or novella. . . . Her work remains a monument to a tremendous talent—even genius.”
- Brinkmeyer, Robert H. Katherine Anne Porter’s Artistic Development: Primitivism, Traditionalism, and Totalitarianism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.
- DeMouy, Jane. Katherine Anne Porter’s Women: The Eyes of Her Fiction. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
- Emmons, Wilfred S. Katherine Anne Porter: The Regional Stories. Austin, Tex.: Steck-Vaughn, 1967.
- Givner, Joan. Katherine Anne Porter: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982.
- Hendrick, Willene, and George. Katherine Anne Porter. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1988.
- Hilt, Kathryn. Katherine Anne Porter: An Annotated References::. New York: Garland, 1990.
- Lopez, Enrique Hank. Conversations with Katherine Anne Porter: Refugee from Indian Creek. Boston: Little, Brown, 1981.
- Unrue, Darlene Harbour. Truth and Vision in Katherine Anne Porter’s Fiction. Athens: University of GeorgiaPress, 1985.
- Warren, Robert Penn, ed. Katherine Anne Porter: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1979.
- Allen, Charles A. ”Katherine Anne Porter: Psychology as Art.” Southwest Review 41 (Summer 1956): 223-230.
- Core, George. ”The Best Residuum of Truth.” Georgia Review 20 (Fall 1966): 278-291.
- Curley, Daniel. ”Katherine Anne Porter: The Larger Plan.” Kenyon Review 25 (Autumn 1963): 671-695.
- Givner, Joan. ”The Genesis of Ship of Fools.” Southern Literary Journal 10 (Fall 1977): 14-30.
- Hartley, Lodwick. ”Katherine Anne Porter. Sewanee Review 48 (April 1940): 206-216.
- Johnson, James William. ”Another Look at Katherine Anne Porter.” Virginia Quarterly Review 36 (Autumn 1960): 598-613.
- Perry, Robert L. ”Porter s ‘Hacienda and the Theme of Change.” Midwest Quarterly 6 (Summer 1965): 403-415.
- Schwartz, Edward Greenfield. ”The Way of Dissent: Katherine Anne Porter s Critical Position. Western Humanities Review 8 (Spring 1954): 119-130.
- Stein, William Bysshe. ”’Theft : Porter s Politics of Modern Love. Perspective 11 (Winter 1960): 223-228.
- Walsh, Thomas F. ”Deep Similarities in ‘Noon Wine. Mosaic 9 (Fall 1975): 83-91.
- –. ”Xochitl: Katherine Anne Porter’s Changing Goddess. American Literature 52 (May 1980): 183-193.
- Warren, Robert Penn. ”Katherine Anne Porter (Irony with a Center). Kenyon Review 4 (Winter 1942): 29-42.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.